J-School alumnus lives out his dream: An appearance on 'Jeopardy!'

Fall 2017 Edition

Alex Trebek (left) with J-School alumnus Andy Hyland.

Alex Trebek (left) with J-School alumnus Andy Hyland.

In a way, Andy Hyland has been preparing for an opportunity on “Jeopardy!” for his entire life.

Hyland watched the show and tried playing along in high school, thinking one day he might get a chance to play in front of the game show’s legendary host Alex Trebek. He’s been on a trivia team for years, playing as often as he can with old journalism school buddies with rotating quirky team names like Hogland’s Heroes and Svi You Later. His friends characterize him as someone with a “wide knowledge base.”

So it completely made sense to the people Hyland knew when he was selected to be a contestant on the “Jeopardy!” episode that aired Sept. 18, 2017.

“It was just a dream to go on the show,” said Hyland, a 2005 William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications graduate who now works in the university’s Office of Public Affairs. “I remember walking into the studio and seeing that big board, and then it sort of hits you, like, 'Man, this is real.' It was just great.”

After trying out for the show with no success in the past, Hyland finally passed a series of tests for a spot on the “Jeopardy!” stage. But he didn’t know that he had passed the in-person portion of the test for over two years before he finally got the phone call.

“I had forgotten that I even did it,” Hyland said. “It was a complete surprise.”

On the show, Hyland answered questions about the movie “Groundhog Day,” the double helix, latkes and reuben sandwiches, all before he got to the question that was made for him: “You can buy a replica home jersey of the 1942 Kansas City Monarchs at the museum honoring this organization that existed from 1920 to 1960,” said the man who read the clue, holding up a Monarchs’ jersey in the shot.

Hyland didn’t hesitate. He knew it was the Negro Leagues, which is commemorated with a museum in the 18th and Vine district in Kansas City.

After missing on two daily doubles on the second board and the final jeopardy question — which asked for the book of the smallest book in the Bible, Hyland finished in second place with winnings of $1,262.

For the most part, the experience moved so fast and was so exhilarating that Hyland had forgotten most of the questions he answered when he re-watched it alongside his friends.

“It’s intimidating. I don’t know if I could have done enough to prepare for what that was,” Hyland said. “There’s no way to anticipate the stuff that’s going to come up.”

Hyland has a brain that was made for this sort of thing, though. He loves to read, and much of the information he is able to retain. He attributed part of that to his journalistic background and the importance he placed on being informed and having a wide breadth of knowledge. Even in his trivia group, he’s always been able to pull out odd facts.

“Andy just kind of knows the most random stuff,” Lindsey Slater, trivia partner and friend, said. “Sometimes he knows things 100 percent, and sometimes we just have to trust that he knows what he’s talking about.”

Hyland didn’t just get the experience, the privilege of being on the show, and some pocket change on Jeopardy!, He also found a new temporary name for his trivia team: I Actually Lost on Jeopardy, Baby.

He hasn’t heard the end of the praise — despite the second-place finish — since the day it aired.

“It's been remarkable for me to see how many people are aware of the show and what it means to go on the show,” Hyland said. “It's young, old, Republican, Democrat, everybody seems to know about it. Everybody seems to think it's cool.”

— Christian Hardy is a senior from Derby, Kansas, studying news and information